talking with your lawyer is not like talking with your best friend.
the rules of engagement
Although you want to have open and easy communication with your lawyer, you must remember to stay focused on the issues your lawyer wants you to address.
Do not overwhelm your lawyer with inappropriate demands and superfluous information. For your pocket’s sake, avoid taking up your lawyer’s time in non-productive ways.
Treat any request from your lawyer for information as an urgent matter. Provide it promptly because proceedings will be stalled until you do. Always tell your lawyer the truth and give a complete picture of events.
Do not try to make yourself look better than you are. Your lawyer needs to know the whole truth about you, warts and all. Why?
Because it is your lawyer’s job to make you look good and they cannot do that without knowing about your flaws, shortcomings, and any skeletons you may have in the closet.
The sooner your lawyer knows of the weaknesses in your case, the sooner they can start developing a plan to overcome them. If the other side has the information and springs it on your lawyer at trial the Judicial officer will think either that your lawyer is incompetent or, more probably, that your lawyer has a dishonest client.
Either way, it does not help you. Remember that your spouse knows a lot about your past and will be feeding all sorts of negative information about you to his or her own lawyer.
Do not risk your lawyer’s credibility (or your own) by withholding potentially damaging information. Better to get everything out in the open so the damage can be controlled.
The stress of a divorce and especially the behaviour of your spouse can put you on edge. Because financial and childcare arrangements are up in the air, and because spouses can be uncooperative regarding these matters, planning anything is extremely difficult.
It may feel as if your life is not your own. If you have a job, you probably go to work each day wondering how much of the money you are earning will be taken away and given to your spouse; whether you will have any funds left after paying the spouse, the child support, and the lawyers.
If you are at home looking after children, you may be wondering whether you will continue to have a roof over your head and over your children’s heads.
It is not surprising then that whenever your spouse acts unexpectedly or something happens that could worsen your plight, you feel like calling your lawyer and passing along the information.
Sometimes though, what has happened does not need to be communicated to your lawyer at all. At other times, the information can be written down and emailed or faxed instead.
Events will occur that you might think are legally significant but are not. There may also be issues that you consider insignificant on which your lawyer will place great emphasis. In litigation, things that start out as irrelevant details sometimes wind up, years later, being the crux of the case.
The best way to keep track of details, both significant and insignificant, is to keep written records of everything. Keep journals recording each day’s events. Let your lawyer know that you are keeping it so he or she can ask for it if needs be.
Your journal may be used as evidence at trial. Keep it as factual as possible and do not put private thoughts into it.
Keep copies of everything you send your lawyer and everything you get from your lawyer. It is helpful to file the papers in date order so that you can find them when necessary.
For example, if your lawyer was not in when you called, and you were told that your call would be returned later that day, write that information down. Include the name of the person you spoke with. That way, when the lawyer does return your call, you can go to your log and remember why you called.
When a call is returned, make the appropriate entries in the last two columns—the date, time, and duration of the return call. By using a phone log, you will be able to keep track of whether your calls are returned, how long calls lasted (to verify the accuracy of your bills), and what each call was about.
If your lawyer repeatedly fails to return your calls, the log will serve as documentation when you write to the lawyer or to a disciplinary body about the problem.
Legal representation is something you are entitled to. And if you are buying this service, you must pay for it as you receive it, just as you pay for food, clothing, utilities, and car repairs. You would not expect a towing service to tow your car for free if you broke down on the highway but could not afford the fee.
Nor should you expect your lawyer to represent you for free just because you are in a messy divorce and cannot afford to pay. Your financial planning strategy will dictate the position you can afford to take.
Your attitude about your legal bills is extremely important. Lawyers do not want to wait to be paid any more than you want to wait to have your phone calls returned. Show that you understand the value of your lawyer’s time by paying their bills promptly. You will find that your lawyer respond to your legal needs with the same consideration.
Be aware that some lawyers will take on your case knowing that their fees will be taken out of your proceeds. Under the Family Law Act 1975, unlike most other litigation, the two parties in divorce proceedings normally are responsible for their own costs.
Common sense tells you to be polite to your lawyer, but as your case goes on, you may find this difficult. Often, divorce lawyers come to be a target for clients’ hostility toward their spouses and the judicial system.
The longer a case goes on, the more frustration and hostility mount. The temptation to lash out at the lawyer, who bears bad tidings, is great. Resist the temptation. It will have the same effect on your lawyer’s attitude toward you as not paying your bill.
Although a good lawyer will be able to help you through minor crises and should be able to let a certain amount of negative emotion roll off his or her back, making a habit of being hostile to your lawyer will only undermine your case.
Use the same manners with your lawyer that you would like him or her to use with you. Remember that your lawyer is a person with feelings, and if you make his or her life too difficult, you may find yourself shut out of it.